Journaling Prompt: It’s all doors and sardines! The comedy of the brilliant play Noises Off by Michael Frayn.
Noises Off is a nearly perfect comedy. It has a great set-up, witty lines, extreme physical humor, quirky characters, and an elaborate and movable set. We are watching a play within a play, the antics and angst of its actors, director, and crew, the foibles that happen off stage, and the desperate attempt by the actors and stage hands to keep the show going. I could watch this play a million times and it would feel like a fresh experience. The actors have to be sharp and quick. There are so many moving parts there is no way you could catch it all in the first 100 viewings! I was in a community theater production of Noises Off a few years ago, playing Belinda, and as I watched the tremendous performance by the cast at the Guthrie Theater, I was reliving some of the moments from when I was in it, and marveling at the things that were new to me.
In Act I, the characters in Noises Off are in the final dress rehearsal for a play they’re doing called “Nothing On.” People are dropping lines, missing cues, and mishandling props. The always brilliant Sally Wingert plays Mrs. Clackett (aka Dotty) who can’t remember what to do… “And I take the sardines. No, I leave the sardines. No, I take sardines.” As she’s muddling her way through what to leave on and what to take off, and what’s the next line, anyway, the director Lloyd Dallas’ voice comes over the loud speaker. He’s desperately trying to get the actors to, well, get their act together, remember the stinkin’ lines, listen for their cues, and hopefully get through the first act before midnight! Nathan Keepers is darling in the role of the frustrated director, his voice, his stance, his not-quite-keeping-his-cool approach to the mess he’s directing is pure entertainment.
Remy Auberjonois plays Freddy who’s playing Philip and the Sheikh. He’s nerdy, sensitive, bumbling, and totally believable. If it weren’t for those darn bloody noses and tax papers, he’d be just fine.
Ray Birk plays the forgetful, wandering, whiskey loving actor Selsdon Mowbray who’s playing the burglar. He can’t quite hear his cue, but makes his entrance with confidence nevertheless. His fellow cast members are constantly looking for him, and trying to hide the bottle from him, and screaming his lines at him. He seems to be not bothered in the least about all the fuss and carries on in a blissful fog.
Kimberly Chatterjee plays Poppy, the stage manager. She tries to play the calm, cool collected one, but she has her own trials and tribulations with the cast and its director!
JuCoby Johnson plays Tim, the one and only stage hand who is constantly repairing doors, finding props, buying flowers, and filling in as needed for certain cast members who go missing, or get a bloody nose. JuCoby also has a funny story of his own “noises off” door problem in a show he was in last year. Oh, the pits and falls, and sticky doors of live theater. The extra notes in the program for this show are great. High praise for the folks who put it together. I always enjoy reading the program, and this time, it’s especially good.
Laura Jordan plays Belinda who is playing Flavia, the character that is most near and dear to my heart. She is the mothering type who knows all the theater gossip, or at least she thinks she does. She’s constantly running around trying to make things smoother, until her own feathers get ruffled. She’ll have nice, tight calf muscles by the end of this run for all the stair climbing she has to do!!
Kate Loprest plays Brooke who’s playing Vicki. She’s beautiful, ditzy, has a tendency to lose her contacts, and a determination to keep the show going, no matter what. I love her energy.
Johnny Wu plays Garry who’s playing Roger who has the most confusing lines of anybody, and the most physical workout. He manages to jump up and down the stairs with his shoelaces tied together, all the while juggling boxes, bags, and lines like, “you know,” and interrupting himself and keeping track of the sardines, and saying Mrs. Clackett’s name wrong.
In Act II, we are treated to all the backstage antics and foibles of the show. It was mesmerizing to watch all the entrances, exits, props moving in and out, looks and gestures between the actors, and ridiculous behavior. The moments with the whiskey bottle and wielding ax were a well-choreographed dance. Simply fascinating. I want to go back to rewatch Act II, again, and again.
By Act III, the fictional play that they’re doing, “Nothing On,” is limping along. The grotesquely decayed sardines aren’t the only thing that stinks. Relationships are in turmoil and the cast can no longer stand the sight of each other. They’re all hoping they can get that last line out before all their careers go down the toilet.
Noises Off is a raucous romp on and off stage. We are treated to the antics of great comedians trying to put on a show. Comedy is hard. It requires expert timing and complete trust and cooperation with the other actors and stage hands. Hats off to the props department, set design (Kate Sutton-Johnson), sound (Jill BC Du Boff) and lighting (Paul Toben) for this one. You make it look like a well oiled machine! The costumes are also spectacular (Sara Ryung Clement). And, of course, all the backstage crew, dressers, and hands that make a show like this happen, well done!
You can see Noises off, directed by Meredith McDonough, at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through December 16, 2018. Since Laughter is the Best Medicine, you will be feelin’ fine after watching this hilarious show!
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?